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Ship that Carried Ham Radio on Arctic Expeditions Undergoing Restoration

from The ARRL Letter on January 10, 2019
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Historic Schooner that Carried Ham Radio on Arctic Expeditions Undergoing Additional Restoration:

The nearly century-old schooner Bowdoin, built in 1921 and relaunched nearly 3 years ago, after some extensive renovation and refitting, is once again in dry dock to restore its hull. During explorer Donald B. MacMillan's Arctic Expedition of 1923 and on the MacMillan-McDonald-Byrd Expedition of 1925, the sailing vessel relied on Amateur Radio operators for communication. Built in East Boothbay, Maine, the Bowdoin has made more than two dozen visits to the Arctic under MacMillan's command. It was named after MacMillan's alma mater, Bowdoin College, and has become the official vessel of the state of Maine, a national historic landmark, and the flagship of the Maine Maritime Academy (MMA) Vessel Operations and Technology Program. Work on the vessel is currently under way at Boothbay Harbor.

At Wiscasset, Maine, with the schooner Bowdoin, ARRL sponsors check out the receiver furnished by Zenith for the 1923 Arctic Expedition. From left to right: F.H. Schnell, 1MO, Traffic Manager; K.B. Warner, 9JT, Secretary-Manager, and Hiram Percy Maxim, 1AW, ARRL President.

"Our goal is to maintain the boat to the highest standard, to go above and beyond in order to preserve this living piece of history," MMA Marine Operations Manager Dana Willis said in a December media release One such preservation update has been supplementing Bowdoin's sails with a diesel engine.

In 1923, MacMillan had turned to ARRL for help in outfitting his expedition with better wireless gear, and, as Michael Marinaro, WN1M, explained in his June 2014 QST article, "Polar Exploration," that help "was enthusiastically provided." ARRL Co-Founder Hiram Percy Maxim and the ARRL Board agreed to furnish support and recruited Donald H. Mix, 1TS, of Bristol, Connecticut, to serve as the shipboard operator. Board member M.B. West custom-designed the equipment, which was built by radio amateurs at his firm, Zenith Electronics. The transmitter operated on medium-wave frequencies with a power of 100 W and used the call sign WNP -- for "Wireless North Pole.

As Marinaro explained in his article, "WNP transmitted weekly 500-word press releases and listings of stations worked and heard. Once received by amateur stations, these reports were delivered to local affiliated newspapers of the North American Newspaper Alliance; from there, they were distributed syndicate-wide by telegraph."

In 1925, the Bowdoin headed to Greenland. "The outstanding accomplishment of the expedition was in the sphere of radio," Marinaro wrote. "Utilizing shortwaves, the expedition was in consistent contact with the outside world throughout the journey, to the delight of the amateurs who were able to work them. The phenomenal success proved to the Navy that shortwaves were definitely superior to the long and ultra-long waves on which the fleets had been relying."

The Bowdoin is expected to be seaworthy again for the summer sailing season, when it will serve once again in MMA sail training courses. -- Thanks to Maine Maritime Academy


The ARRL Letter

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